Every Christmas time finds me reminiscing over beautiful memories of childhood Christmastime’s spent with my parents. Those were the naive and innocent days of my life.
As children we associated Christmas with the arrival of the sharp cold, dusty weather of Harmattan which changed the air with its peculiar smell of red clay dust.
The frenzy of Christmas preparations started a bit early with mummy taking us to the tailor for measurements of new dresses or if her pockets had extra jingles, purchases of all-ready-made to wear clothes would be the thing.
She did this early enough so that ‘Nwanyi Bacha’ our favourite family tailor would have them all ready before the frantic rush from last minute customers. Other purchases were equally made as early as possible to save a few Naira’s ahead of the hiking of price in goods. In Nigeria, we didn’t have sales back then. We had price hikes.
The purchase of several Cockerels would be done and we would spend the following weeks fattening them up with ground chicken feed, while the poor things pecked away and waited to be slaughtered, plucked and eaten with the numerous dishes that would circulate over the holidays.
The smell of vanilla and nutmeg became a constant aroma in the house. Tins and tins of Chin-chin were fried to entertain guests who would surely come calling when we got to the village and an assortment of Christmas carols played non-stop.
…But we had no White Christmas and I wanted a snowy white Christmas. The television’s had been showing foreign movies of snow and Santa sneaking down the chimney’s to drop gifts in socks.
The University children’s staff party was held and our neighbourly dark-faced Santa whom we fondly called ‘Father Christmas’ was always kitted out with a cotton wool beard, eyebrows, chalky hair and fluffy stuffing to expand his girth.
He handed out the little gifts as we lined up in neat rows to meet him and we secretly whispered knowingly to each other… ”I think it’s Chikpe’s daddy…he must have gone to North Pole to collect our gifts.”
Hedges were decorated with twinkly lights and there was so much gaiety in the air.
….But we didn’t have white Christmas.
Then the traveling to the village. It was almost always a mass exodus. Leaving the townships to the villages during festive periods was a norm.
For miles, the roads would be clogged with full vehicles snaking through the narrow winding roads of Nsukka express up to the 9th mile, where there was always a traditional log jam that lasted for hours as people drove crazily, and a road that was meant to be a two-lane road, somehow turned into a five or six or how ever many lane road.
The cheerful hawkers were happy about the jams. They did brisk business; excitedly shouting their wares on top of their voices..Bread, Bread, your fresh bread here. Groundnut, even live Chicken were hawked in the traffic.
Our Renault was always loaded down to the hilt. Bags of Rice, fattened Cockerels, tins of chin-chin, luggage, crates of soft drinks and so many things.
Getting to the village and meeting the grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins, clans men and women were moments not to be forgotten. The older ones practically twirled you around, exclaiming, oohing and aahing over how tall you have grown, how this or that and beaming with fond smiles.
The cool village nights were filled with sounds of the power plant droning in the background, of children’s laughter and playful voices as we gathered in front of Grandpa’s frontage and enjoyed a mix of scary, ghostly folktales, riddles and jokes. The constant chirp of the Cricket and the deep croaking of the Frogs, with Fireflies that flitted past every few minutes, all made the inky darkness of the night much more mysterious.
Now and again, we would catch sight of a torch or winking lamp bobbing up and down from afar as its owner walked the dark, trodden village path and we would all shriek and run into grandpa’s house.
…But we still didn’t have any White Christmas!
Christmas dawn met everyone excited and well dressed. Somehow, Father Christmas, had managed to visit in the wee hours of the morning and left little gifts for us. It couldn’t have been easy doing those rounds across Continents and villages, but he did come and fulfilled his promises. Quite the lovely man, our Father Christmas.
The morning Harmattan’s dew would still be hanging in the crisp air, as we enjoyed hot cups of beverage and thick slices of bread, butter and eggs before trooping into the available cars to go to Church. We sometimes had to sit on each others lap or the car would make several rounds to ferry everyone to Church, since some relatives did not own cars.
The Christmas mass was always too joyous and merry to be solemn. We ardently admired our winking new trinkets, shiny shoes, dresses and oily plastered hair, which had been stretched or should I say fried out with hot sizzling stretching combs that had been heated over the stove.
Slow merry gyrating to the altar and back with new pennies for offering, our beaming brown faces followed our dazzling mothers, who were bedecked in the latest George or Hollandaise wrappers and flamboyant head gears that made them look so outstanding. The Priests in their pristine white, stood with the altar boys and the special containers of holy water were sprinkled liberally on all and sundry.
Our feast was the sharing of delicious, sumptuous food. Copious plates of Jollof or fried rice, pounded yam, cake, chin-chin, drinks, pepper-soup; we ate until our small tummies were thoroughly rounded out with food.
These things were done in stages and the icing to the cake of Christmas tidings was the outing ”to see the masquerades.” The event of seeing the masquerades is tradition at it’s finest. A treat in a first-class of its own. The vibrant and sometimes scary masquerades would give chase and the adrenaline of pumping hearts and legs as we scampered for safety were recounted over and over.
As I grew older and watched my mother go through the yearly Christmas preparation, the selfless cooking and taking big basins of warm food to the local prisons for the prisoners, the giving of food items to the less privileged around her, I came to realize that the joy of Christmas was not based on the whiteness of its snow, or the brown dust of its Harmattan, but the deep feeling of family, of joy, of sharing, of love, of charity, of peace and purpose that lay in the hearts of all those who believed.
”Merry Christmas My Dear Friends. Glad Tidings To You And Yours.”
© Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha